Sammy Swindell loves using the hashtag: #StillWinning.
That’s because, at age 65, he still is. The former World of Outlaws champion, who ranks second to Steve Kinser for career wins on the tour at 394, enjoys racing in select events.
And Swindell would love to have the opportunity to defend his back-to-back victories as the only Outlaw to win sprint car races at Bristol Motor Speedway—if a competitive ride should become available.
“Yeah, I’d definitely like to go back there if I had a shot at it,” Swindell said. “I don’t want to run a whole lot of races during the year, but I still want to race some. I would like to run some of these key races, but it just keeps getting harder and harder to get something where you have a good team and a good car so I can do the best I can do.”
The Tennessee native remembers when Thunder Valley first covered the half-mile bullring with dirt in 2000. Swindell, who competed in the NASCAR Truck Series in its inaugural season, was already familiar with the track. In a truck, he started on the front row and finished fourth in 1995.
When the Outlaws announced the Bristol dirt debut in 2000, Swindell was thrilled.
“I was really happy to see that because I knew it would be a real high-speed place,” Swindell said. “It was always something I liked, something I was able to do well at—at all the mile tracks, the faster places. I won multiple times. If you did it at a smaller track, I don’t think I would have had as much of an advantage. But it seems the faster the cars go, the more advantage I would have.
“They call that a half-mile but really it seems a lot bigger than that. It may be a half-mile right around the inside, but then with the banking there, it brings the speed way up. So the track was very similar to a lot of tracks we run on.”
Swindell expects a similar experience for competitors over the next two months—depending on the dirt.
“With the dirt, it’s always a little bit of a gamble about how it’s going to go,” Swindell said. “A lot can play into it. If it’s exactly the same dirt, and they got it the same way, then it should be the same. But there are so many variables with the dirt—if it has more sand or less sand, more rocks or less rocks, more clay or less clay. It can all make a difference.”
As can the size of the cars. The WoO sprinters weigh 1,400 pounds and produce around 900 horsepower. Compared with the 3,400-pound, 750-hp NASCAR Cup cars, the Outlaws will fly around the Great Coliseum. The speed comparison? In 2000, Swindell set the track qualifying record of 138.440mph. Chase Elliott holds the current Cup qualifying record of 131.713mph set in spring 2019.
The high speed at Bristol played right into Swindell’s hands.
“A lot of times, at a lot of places that the sprint cars go, they just run wide open,” Swindell said. “Your input on the steering wheel makes a difference because you don’t touch the brake pedal. You just hold the throttle pedal wide open. You get to places where you have to use all the different controls, then the guy with the most experience or who knows how to adapt to that track is the one that’s usually going to do the best.
“I think the only advantage I had on the high-speed tracks was that I was just more comfortable going at that speed than a lot of guys were.”
And Swindell loved speed.
“That’s the deal there with Bristol, you're pretty much going wide open,” Swindell said. “If you just let the car go into the corners and you get it to where it just does all the work by itself, then it doesn’t use any power and you don’t slip the car, then you make more speed. It’s the same on the mile tracks.
“Most of the time, there was just a handful of people you were ever racing with, because the speeds were high and guys just didn’t feel comfortable.”
When NASCAR announced a return to dirt in more than half a century, several competitors scrambled to find rides and races in hopes of getting some laps on dirt before the Food City Dirt Race on March 28.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge, that’s for sure,” Swindell said. “It’s going to take a lot of guys out of their comfort zone—not being able to run a car like you would on asphalt in that same car. So I think it’s going to be a challenge for a lot of guys. You see a lot of guys are just trying to jump into cars to get some time on the dirt. It’s going to be difficult.”
Elliott competed in several midget races, while Joey Logano opted for a modified at Volusia Speedway last month. Elliott won a USAC heat race. Logano came from the rear of the field to finish third.
“For some guys, it will be easy and some of the guys they probably won’t have a clue,” Swindell said. “It will be different. With them not running those cars there before it will be a challenge for the crew to adapt to that.
“I remember going to a race at I-70—that place is banked pretty good—it’s similar to Bristol, not exactly, but it’s close. They put dirt on that track and we ran that for a few years. They were having a late model race and running the sprint cars there also. I had a guy ask me if I wanted to run his late model. I was happy to do that. I had run a late model around home a little bit, so I kind of knew what I was getting into. Rusty Wallace and a couple of those guys were there, trying to run the dirt. I knew he had run that track a lot during his ASA days. I don’t know if it was the car or him, but it wasn’t very good.”
Still, for the drivers that do transition from open wheel to stock cars, the lessons can be invaluable. Even moving through different classes on dirt or asphalt, competitors obtain skills that can prove advantageous down the road.
“You always picked up something—one from the other,” Swindell said. “If you paid attention to everything, there was something you could learn from each one. Some people might disagree with this, but the quicker the car is—let’s say you’re in a 410 sprint car, and there’s a big difference between a 410 sprint car and a 360 sprint car—if you run a 410 sprint car, which is probably the fastest thing on dirt, it teaches you a lot of disciplines.
“When I would step in a 360, I always felt like I was so far ahead of the car,” Swindell said. “When I ran the late model, because I ran a sprint car and things happened so fast, everything moved at a slower pace. You felt way ahead of it. And it was the same thing when I got into the stock cars. I went to Daytona and ran well right away. It was easy, because I wasn't intimidated by the track or the speed because everything in the car moved slower. I could be ahead of the car.
“It’s like if you’re used to running a rocket, then you get on a turtle, your mind is way ahead. If you get used to driving something with a lot of power and you can control that—and being lightweight everything moves really quick—so you get used to thinking at that speed. Sometimes the cars move so slow, you get bored.”
Whether it’s a sprinter or a stock car, Swindell would welcome the chance to race again at Bristol.
“Yeah, I would seriously consider running a stock car there,” Swindell said. “Right now I don’t have anything committed for the sprint car. I know Kevin (Swindell's son and team owner) has something scheduled with another guy—and they’re doing whatever they’re doing. But I’d love to race there with a competitive car.
“I’ve been in some cars over the years—some that weren’t quite as good, and I’ve had good runs and won a few races here or there. It’s just a lot harder when you don't have—I know what it’s like to have the best stuff and be ahead of everybody else. Now I’m finding out what it’s like not to have the best stuff and not being ahead of everybody else’s car.”
That’s where experience makes a difference. Although Swindell announced his retirement in 2014, he still feels competitive.
“I don’t feel a lot different than I did when I was in my 50s or my 40s really,” Swindell said. “I haven’t lost my hearing. I haven’t lost my eyesight. I haven’t lost my reflexes. I don’t really think I’m 65, but there may be a couple of things that do.”